To be completely clear up front, the Machu Picchu Jungle Trek and the iconic Inca Trail are two very different experiences. Both begin in Cusco (essentially) and both wrap up at the infamous Machu Picchu site. I’ve spoken to friends who have done the traditional Inca Trail and they loved every second. I guess it’s up to you on the experience you’re after. Moo and I vacationed in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia back in 2015. While this content has the potential to be outdated, it should largely still be relevant.
Why did we chose to do the Machu Picchu Jungle Trek instead of the traditional Inca Trail? A few reasons: Moo isn’t the biggest fan of camping. And while I’ve experienced it myself on the Kokoda Track back in 2014, I wasn’t overly convinced I was up for it again so soon. The Machu Picchu Jungle Trek has you sleeping in simple yet comfortable 2-3 star accommodation (with free wifi I might add.)
The Jungle Trek took the same amount of time (4 days/3 nights) and we still had the opportunity to trek Huayna Picchu. I guess you could say it’s slightly easier to get the permits for this trek. Mostly because they’re not in such hot demand like the traditional Inca Trail is. Which requires you to book as far as 6 months if not more in advance.
Not to mention, the Jungle Trek included the following activities in it’s itinerary: mountain biking, white water rafting, trekking and zip lining to get to the finish line, so to speak. Which was far too temping to pass up.
We booked through Loki hostel as they came recommended through a friend who had recently visited. In short, this is what the itinerary entails:
Transfer to Santa Maria (4,200m) for a 45km (2000m) downhill mountain bike ride. Have lunch and check into a family owned lodge for the evening. Spend the afternoon white water rafting (optional) which was a pretty exhilarating way to end the day I gotta tell ya. Adding onto that, a deliciously cold beer at sunset to take it all in.
Trek the Inca Trail! You’ll trek for about 16 kms today, which winds up and around the Quellomayo mountain region. Today you’ll sample real chocolate (cacao), fresh coffee and learn about quinoa. I know you’re dying to know the history guys. The views along the way were spectacular and as always the photos will never do it justice. We found ourselves in natural hot springs upon nightfall. Which was an odd experience I won’t lie, but certainly dispelled any aching muscles. Tonight you’ll stay in Santa Teresa.
It was pretty safe to assume that everyone in our group wanted to go zip lining today (optional) rather than trek again. We spent a solid few hours flying through the air, usually around 150m high. It may sound reasonably low but was certainly butterfly inducing for my queasy stomach. Before the afternoon trek to Hidroelectrica station we ate lunch and hung around in hammocks waiting for an afternoon cool breeze. The afternoon trek was supposed to take around three hours. In reality it felt like at least six to get to the small town of Aguas Calientes. The gateway town to Machu Picchu.
An early start is always my first memory recalling this day. We rose at 3:40am to get ourselves to the gates for 5am before the crowds arrived. To no avail, on arrival at 4:30am, there were at least 200 other eager trekkers waiting before us. Equally as nervous for what lay ahead. Once the gates open, the race was on as hundreds of us paced to reach to the set of stairs first. People actually ran! By the time we reached the steps I’d say we were around 40 people behind the front leaders. As the ascent began, slowly but surely we passed more and more. ‘Steep’ is an understatement. Relentless is getting a little closer. The 430 meter climb wraps up along the mountain face and ended up taking us 45-minutes to reach the top. The gates open at 6am and we were some of the first to enter. I think the word I’d use here was: enchanting. It may have had something to do with the morning fog, or my weary eyes, but either way it was a sight for sore eyes. Nothing can really prepare you for the real thing, you just have to see it.
There is also an option to hike the Machu Picchu mountain (free). But! It also takes up to three hours worth of continuous climbing. Unfortunately no-one in our group was really that game to try it. Wayna Picchu on the other hand…
For those considering hiking the (optional) Huayna Picchu hike, all I can say is:
Or at the very least buy the ticket and assess how you’re feeling on the day. The officials limit how many people can hike at any given time. They’ll order you to sign in and out as you enter and I believe they cap it at 200 people at both 7am and 10am time slots. There is a less intense path you can take if you’re not feeling 100% on the day.
In short, Huayna Picchu is an exhausting 40-minute or so vertical climb to reach the top. Once there, you are rewarded with a unique view of Machu Picchu. In the opposite direction to most commercial pictures of it (example: like the feature image.)
I will say as a word of warning for those maybe taking the bus up a little later, or perhaps catching the day train from Cusco. By the time we descended back down (that is after 1.5 million photographs) the grounds were riddled with tourists. It was honestly unbearable. It dissuaded us to stay any longer than what we’d already spent and opted to take the bus back down to Aguas Calientes.
The train system is extremely efficient at getting you there and more importantly getting you OUT of there. The train back to Cusco took around 4 hours in total and a word of warning, it was a least 20 degrees colder upon returning to such altitude.
Above all, seeing Machu Picchu with one’s own eyes is a must for any travel addict or history buff.
As I said, All I can say is: Do it!!
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